TORONTO – Five games into the new baseball season, the Toronto Blue Jays already have three wins, something it took them 14 games to accomplish during their troubled 2017, and are above .500, an accomplishment they didn’t manage at all last year.
Mole hills that should not be made into mountains, for sure, but a point of difference worth noting, nonetheless.
A 4-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Monday marked a third straight win for the Blue Jays, this one spurred by home runs from Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin and Aledmys Diaz, six strong innings from Jaime Garcia and some nifty bullpen work to close things out.
And then, of course, there was Donaldson’s whistle gesture at the visiting dugout as he touched the plate following his home run.
Say what, you ask?
Take it away, JD.
“They have a particular coach over there who likes to blow an actual whistle when their team makes a good play or whatever,” explained Donaldson, referring to White Sox first base coach Daryl Boston. “I was talking to a couple of former coaches I had in the minor leagues (White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson and assistant hitting coach Greg Sparks) about it before the game. I guess (he deems it) to be appropriate, so I felt it would be appropriate if I blew it back at him when they didn’t make a play.”
Some more context: Boston said he’d been informed Donaldson didn’t really appreciate his whistle, yet he decided to start blowing it as the slugger stepped into the box in the sixth inning.
That motivated Donaldson to respond in kind: “I felt like I’d return the favour.”
Said Boston: “I had hit the whistle a couple of times hard before he went to the plate and he responded. You can pin that homer on me.”
Here are some other talking points from the Blue Jays’ win Monday before a crowd of 16,629, the smallest at Rogers Centre since 15,062 showed up for a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on May 19, 2015:
• Donaldson proclaimed himself ready to return to the field Tuesday after throwing again during batting practice as he rebuilds his shoulder following what the team described as a dead-arm period. Manager John Gibbons said before the game that “there’s a good chance he’ll be out there (at third base Tuesday),” and the all-star third baseman confirmed it afterwards, adding that he made rapid progress since opening day. “All spring training, (the shoulder issue) was kind of hanging around, it would go away then come back, go away, come back,” said Donaldson. “They were very smart by just allowing me to have a few days off, do some scheduled maintenance to it, and so far I can’t complain, it feels very well.”
• Donaldson said he experimented with different arm slots in the spring in seeking comfort, but is close to normal at the moment. “I was trying to do some things to see if I could find something that would alleviate what was going on,” he explained. “This time I was just like, ‘Hey, whatever feels natural for me, that’s what I want to do.’ So far it’s played out very nice.”
• The homer gave Donaldson some reward for some strong plate appearances so far, as he slapped a 95.5 mph fastball from Reynaldo Lopez over the wall in right to tie the game 1-1. “I felt like I’ve been kind of pulling off a few balls here and there and I was able to stay on a ball and drive it to the opposite field,” he said. “When I’m swinging the bat well, that’s what I do.”
• Garcia, making his Blue Jays debut, impressed in allowing one run on four hits and two walks in six innings, striking out seven. The lefty induced seven groundballs, was helped by three double plays. “I feel for the most part I was able to keep the ball down and keep us in the ballgame,” he said.
• A clever play from Yangervis Solarte at third base in the third loomed large, as he fielded Adam Engel’s grounder and then caught Yolmer Sanchez too far off third base, with the Blue Jays eventually getting the speedster in a run down. Solarte said he felt Sanchez would have charged home had he thrown to first instead. “I tried to fake him,” he said. “I caught the ball and I know the guy got an extra step, so when I (faked to first) and I saw him in between, I thought OK, let me go get him.”
• Welington Castillo’s solo shot off Garcia opened the scoring in the fourth and then he greeted Seung-hwan Oh with another homer in the seventh, putting the White Sox up 2-1.
• That lead didn’t last long as in the bottom half of the frame, Curtis Granderson worked a walk off lefty Luis Avilan and an out later, Martin turned on a 93.8 mph fastball from Danny Farquhar and deposited it over the wall in left to give the Blue Jays their first lead of the game. “I feel like I’m seeing the ball well, feel like I’m taking some decent swings,” said Martin, “but it’s always nice to get one in the home run column, especially to put our team ahead a run, so I thought that was huge.”
• Why was Granderson batting against a lefty you ask? Steve Pearce, his platoon partner in left, was unavailable with a fever. “He wasn’t even at the park,” said Gibbons.
• Diaz tacked on some insurance with a solo shot in the eighth. The shortstop has two hits this year, a double Sunday and the homer.
• Ryan Tepera followed Oh with a clean eighth, working around a one-out Jose Abreu double by striking out Matt Davidson and Castillo, while Roberto Osuna took over in the ninth to collect his second save.
• Troy Tulowitzki was operated on by Dr. Thomas Clanton in Vail, Colo., Monday and the procedure on the bone spurs on both his heels went well, the Blue Jays were told.
• The smallest crowd the Blue Jays had in all of 2017 was 28,401 for a 4-3 win over Baltimore on Sept. 11. Jarring sight? “Mondays are Mondays – that’s the best way for me to describe it,” said Donaldson. “For me, everything that I’ve been around, we’ve had great support. I think maybe people were coming into this season not having high expectations for our team. If we continue to play well and continue to put a good product out there on the field, I know this city, and this city is going to get behind us. I’m not really too concerned about that because that’s going to take care of itself when we win games.”